Friday, June 13, 2014

Book review: Prayers for the Stolen

I don't generally review works of fiction on these pages but Jennifer Clement's new novel Prayers for the Stolen deserves mention. Ms. Clement is an American writer who was raised, and currently lives, in Mexico.

In a voice that sometimes seems to be a gringa Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ms. Clement tells us the story of  a group of mothers and their daughters who lives on a mountain in Guerrero state in Mexico. Each of the mothers has dug a trench in the yard for their precious daughters to hide in should the narcoterrorists come a-calling.

The main character is a preteen girl named Ladydi. She was given that name in honor of Princess Diana whom her mother adored. Her mother would spend her time watching the History Channel on television and accumulating a wealth of otherwise useless trivia. But she knew to make certain that her daughter wasn't seen as desirable by the riff-raff driving through the region. She cut Ladydi's hair short and stained her teeth so she wouldn't look attractive. 

The women are left alone on the mountain because the men have all gone to the States to earn a living. Some husbands continue to send money back to their families on a regular basis while others have drifted off to a new life in a new country. Whatever the case, it leaves the women with the job of protecting themselves.

One of Ladydi's friends is kidnapped and turned in to a prostitute by a drug lord. She is returned to her village in an infantile state having had her childhood stolen from her. She comes back with the tell-tale cigarette burns on her arm that the "stolen" use to identify themselves should they turn up dead.

Ladydi's life takes a tragic turn when she is implicated in the brutal murder of a little girl while on her way to a job in Acapulco cleaning the house of a drug lord who isn't coming back. In prison she finds herself with another group of strong women whose lives have gone off the rails. It is her coming of age.

Prayers for the Stolen gives us a glance into a somewhat mystical world of drug cartels and unfettered capitalism. The view isn't pretty and it should make us think about our approach to drugs and drug wars and the people who get caught in between. 

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